The profession of landscape architecture is increasingly faced with the dilemma of how to balance historic preservation and contemporary adaption of mid-century plaza and parks. The re-master planning of Calder Plaza embodies a community-led initiative and endorsed result grounded in research-based methodologies which represents a national model for professionals, community advocates, and elected officials navigating urban landscapes at critical periods of change.
Built in 1969, Calder Plaza emerged from the ideals of urban renewal as a signature of civic space for Grand Rapids. Punctuated by two, rectilinear civic buildings and Calder’s La Grande Vitesse, the design shifted a national paradigm for how public art and urban space interact as one. However, today’s Calder Plaza usually appears lifeless and empty, due to limited programming and adjacent land uses. A recent survey revealed only one in ten citizens were satisfied with its current state, though recommendations were broad and divisive.
From the onset, the team sought counsel from the Calder Foundation to understand the artist’s intent, including critical viewsheds, materiality and spatial. By understanding such character-defining qualities, designers identified zones which could receive varying gradients of change without diminishing integrity. The Master Plan instills community goals of Activation, Accessibility and Attraction. Abstracting the concept of a “theatre-in-the-round,” the design introduces an ensemble of hard and soft interventions focused on human comfort, public art, recreation, accessibility, architecture, economic development, programming, education and urban ecology. The Plan activates adjacent streetscapes by converting a stark façade of the parking garage into a shallow retail that infuses new land uses between the downtown business district and a burgeoning residential neighborhood to the north. While respecting the historical significance of place, the team achieved a visionary and inclusive plan that earned extraordinary community support, a unanimous vote for adoption, and the public endorsement by the Calder Foundation.